Shunali and I go back a long way, in fact so long back is the way that memory mists over, and if I dare reveal when exactly that was, we both risk the real and tangible danger of carbon dating selves. Anyway, as life and things have an unfortunate tendency to do, we lost touch completely with each other and reconnected only recently thanks to that very wonderful malaise of the modern day social media, namely twitter.
When Shunali told me she was writing a book, a while ago, I was most delighted because not only is she one of the few writers who can hold a sentence, and hold it well, but because she also has a delightful turn of phrase and sense of that elusive drollness that is sadly lacking in most writing these days.
As for her book, I would be unfairly biased if I said anything about it, being proud godmother-ly about it, so all I will say is read it if you are a parent. You will find yourself nodding your head along, between snorting helplessly with laughter. Read it if you aren’t a parent. Think of it as a road guide to the path ahead if you ever plan to be one. Or just read it for the fun read. You owe it to yourself to read books that are well written and make you laugh as well.
Here’s a quick Q&A with Shunali about her book:
How did the book come about?
As a writer, one writes experiences that are closest to ones life at a given point. At this point, my KRA (key responsibility area) is that of a mother and therefore this book.
Is this essentially a book on parenting?
I wouldn’t say that. This is as much a book about parenting as The curious incident of a dog at the night time is about a dog. On a more serious note, yes this book is the journey of a young woman, from being a full time career oriented person to becoming a full time mom and losing and then finding herself in the process.
Battle Hymn of a Bewildered Mother is as much about children as it is about failure, self-doubt, moments of triumph and above all, a general all-encompassing feeling of bewilderment.
When I became a mother, I felt lost. And when I say that, I am only putting it mildly. I took refuge in self help books but to no avail. I read books essaying different parenting theories and they all made me feel INADEQUATE. At the end of each such book I was just left feeling guilty about all the things I was not getting right. I lose my cool, I point at the flabby bits of my body when I feel fat, I wasn’t and am not a perfect role model to my children even when I am at my most exemplary behaviour. It upset me that I did not have the requisite maternal instinct, nor was I the go-getter tiger mom who is lionized so much today, nor did I want to subscribe to that thought process. And so it is that I reached a saturation point with all the books that make mothers feel incompetent and began to tell my story. The only thing I had in the absence of parenting instinct was love and I had to work with that.
When I started to write this book, I did not realize the form it was going to take. Even though it is non-fiction, one usually is aware of the direction towards which one is veering the book as one begins to tell ones story.
But the key characters of my story, my daughters Rania and Zara were constantly changing. I was keeping my notes already from the time both of them were really small but when I finally began to compile the material I realized that they were different people every month, For girls change must faster than boys and one gets to witness and engage with their various avatars between the ages of 4 to13.
This made the book easier in some ways because every day was a new story presenting itself to me.
What were my challenges as a first time author?
I think, if you are a a first time author, the first thing you need is a good editor before you submit your script and I was lucky to have found one with the help of my friend Jayapriya Vasudev who had suggested I do this book in the first place.
But once the manuscript was ready and submitted, one had to patiently bide ones time, hoping that one would wake up to that one happy mail in their inbox. This part seemed the toughest, although I cannot complain really because I only had to wait a few months before I heard from Hay House and a few other publishers.
Since I keep a blog, I did not mind the wait because a blog gets you instant gratification. You write, you hear back from your readers, some of them retweet your link, you feel like a successful writer for a day and then again you slip into the abyss that is smug complacency till you write your next piece which stinks till the nether regions of the internet gateway and you are filled with self-loathing.
That, my kids and a fair bit of traveling that I somehow end up doing kept me too busy to obsess over hearing back from the publishers.
A friend, who is also a published writer, pushed me a lot when it came to my submissions and for that I owe her a lot. So yes, my advise to aspiring writers is to befriend writers, read a lot of literature, write as often as possible and submit a clean copy.
Which authors have had the greatest influenced on you as a writer?
That’s a tough one because one can never know what elements of a particular book remain within us and ferment in the neo-cortex of one’s brain till they are released on paper, but the writers I love best are JD Salinger, Oscar Wilde, PG Wodehouse, Nick Hornby, Bill Bryson, Dave Barry, Sue Townsend, Helen Fielding and two outrageously funny women, the poster girls of stand-up comedy, Tina Fey and Joan Rivers.
We also have three signed copies to give away to the three most interesting comments on this post. All you need to do is to tell us your most amusing parenting anecdote. Contest ends April 30th. Shunali will choose the winners and her decision is final. India addresses only.